Inside PalatiDates: Durham’s matchmakers 

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As Valentine’s Day rapidly approaches and the pressure to find an all-important date grows, I spoke to Katie Elisabeth, one of the organisers of PalatiDates — Durham University’s very own blind-dating scheme.

According to Katie, PalatiDates was created, “simply as a way for students in Durham to meet each other. It’s low pressure, anybody can sign up, and it is quite an exciting thing to read about and see in the newspaper. It really is just for some fun and for students to feel like they can meet others without really putting themselves out there.”

Katie hasn’t always been a part of the matchmaking scheme though. Beginning as a Palatinate Editorial Board member, she eventually warmed to the idea so much that she became its leading organiser. Considering recent years, we turn our attention to the world of ‘lockdown dating’.

Regarding how virtual dates were perceived, she candidly states: “we didn’t get a lot of positive feedback! It was never going to be as good as in-person. You can’t really gauge a feeling of the date and it seemed much more like a formal meeting. It was always awkward between participants to see who would join the Zoom call first! However, I’m sure it was exciting to meet a new person during lockdown, albeit just through the screen.”

We then reflect on the increased awkwardness for participants, with families within earshot in many cases.“We have heard some horror stories about family members walking in when a date is taking place! It is certainly not an ideal situation. However, even during lockdown, I still felt that PalatiDates was a great way for people to connect and meet, even just to make friends outside their households! We had a lot of engagement.”

The most romantic thing about Durham is when it snows

I then ask her what the most awkward, and certainly memorable moments from PalatiDates have been, for which she seems spoiled for choice. “Gosh there have been several ones. Someone recently said that the participant reminded them of their dad. There was another case where two people went on a date and he was Facebook friends with her mum! We also set up two people who had lived together during first year and were keen to keep it platonic. That was certainly an awkward moment! “One that sticks is when we set up a 19-year-old with a 28-year-old postgrad. There was a weird dynamic and they wanted very different things – with him wanting to settle down and her not being on board with that!”

It does seem that Katie is Durham’s very own Cupid, pairing students together simply based on their responses to a form. She is clear however, that a crucial factor determining compatibility is a shared taste in food. So, we turn to that crucial question: what would they order for the table? “I recently set up two people simply because they both answered with garlic bread and seemed to be on the same wavelength. There are of course loads of different questions and we do look at people’s interest and hobbies trying to envisage how they would get along. We always get people who are clear that they have big turn-offs, so we avoid putting them together.”

Of course this leads me to ask about the most popular spot for couples in town: “Spags — I think it is cheap, cheerful and quite a romantic setting that feels very intimate when you are there. Or Riverview, many people do opt for a coffee over there, however Spags certainly leads the way.

“The most romantic thing about Durham is when it snows. You always see so many couples walking round hand-in-hand to keep warm. They do enjoy going sledging together or grabbing a coffee when it’s chilly outside.”

We then move on to discuss that infamous 70% figure – the claim that 70% of couples who leave Durham go on to get married. Supporting the commonly held belief that university is the natural place to meet someone.

A year later, a Palatidates couple are still together

“At university, you certainly do have the same interests. You do have a lot of time to go out, do things together and get to know each other. Many people end up moving to the big cities such as London together and starting a life there. It is a good place to meet someone but there is always that awkward conversation about life after university and the prospect of everyone naturally ending up living apart. There should not be any pressure to find someone here though, it could happen in the workplace, later on in life or frankly anywhere! “However, if you do meet in Durham, I have heard wonderful stories about student couples getting married in town. A friend’s aunt got married in the castle and she and her husband do therefore visit annually.”

Katie tells me that a year later, a PalatiDates couple are still together. “We had a very successful date between two girls who are still dating. I’m not sure whether I can fully attribute that to PalatiDates but they are still together! One couple did last a few more dates after their introduction, but that did eventually fizzle out. I accidentally did try to set them up again through the scheme!

“Because of the lockdown, it did seem like a mechanism for people to just make friends and gain another contact; however, I do hope in the future that more people will find love through PalatiDates.”

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